With Apple TV+ and Disney+ joining established players such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, there's never been a better choice of video streaming services. But how do you access this heaving buffet of on-demand film and TV content without a smart TV? The simplest way is to get yourself a video streamer – a small networked dongle that plugs directly into your TV's HDMI port.
Google Chromecast and Amazon Fire TV Stick are two of the cheapest – and most popular – video streamers available right now. But, you might be wondering, which is better? Which is the best value for money? And which would best suit your needs?
Read on and we'll delve into the features and performance of the Chromecast and the Fire TV Stick, drawing on our in-depth reviews to compare the pros and cons. We've even highlighted the best deals below, so you can pick up a Chromecast or Fire TV Stick at a bargain price. So get comfy and prepare to achieve video streaming heaven – for a bargain price.
At £39.99 ($34.99) the Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote (2nd generation) is Amazon's most affordable video streamer. It's not much to look at but it does come with a basic remote control and the addition of Alexa Voice Remote.
At just £30 ($35), the Google Chromecast (2018) is even cheaper than the Fire TV Stick. There's no physical remote but it's a far more stylish device with a flexible HDMI cable, so its easier to plug in when space behind the TV is tight.
Result: Chromecast wins.
The Fire TV Stick comes with Alexa Voice Remote, so you can quickly find films and TV shows using your voice. You can command your Fire TV Stick to search for a particular actor, director, or film genre, or even say “fast forward five minutes” (although sadly that function only works while watching Amazon Prime content). Set-up is simple and the user interface is well-designed, so it won't be long before you're in business with the Fire TV .
The Chromecast takes a different approach. It's similarly easy to set-up but there's no physical remote. Instead, you select a video, song or web page via your phone or tablet and ‘cast’ the content to your TV. Not only can you view almost any media app on your TV, you can use your TV as a monitor for your laptop or computer. The Fire TV Stick also supports streaming through your phone, but it's not as slick or widely adopted.
The Chromecast can be controlled using your voice, too, through Google Home devices. Just like the Fire TV Stick, you can adjust the volume or give commands such as "Hey Google, play Stranger Things on Netflix".
The Chromecast is arguably the simplest and most versatile of the two streamers, but the pricier Fire TV Stick offers some nifty advanced features. Amazon’s Advanced Streaming and Prediction (ASAP), for example, learns your tastes and pre-buffers Prime Video shows it thinks you might watch next. If you're a fan of Alexa, the Amazon Fire TV Stick would be the obvious choice.
When it comes to content, there's not much between the two budget streamers. Both offer access to all the main catch-up TV services and all the major streaming services including Netflix, Prime Video, Apple TV+ and YouTube. (Worth noting: Chromecast will only grant access to Apple TV+ via a laptop or computer, not a smartphone).
Finally, both streamers offer the bonus of casual gaming. There's plenty of Chromecast-enabled games to choose from. Turn the Fire TV Stick's remote sideways and it become a games controller. Neither devices will replace your Xbox or PS4, though.
Result: It's close but Amazon Fire TV Stick pips it.
Both these budget streamers serve-up video content in up to 1080p HD resolution, but how do they compare?
The Fire TV Stick's picture is as crisp as we would expect for the money, with suitable insight to the dark scenes and plenty of pop in the colours. The Chromecast's picture is similarly sharp and detailed, and boasts natural colours and a good deal of punch. On the downside, dark detail isn’t terribly strong and there’s a hunt of blur and judder to motion.
Audio-wise, the Fire TV Stick outputs sound up to Dolby Digital Plus 7.1, while the Chromecast tops out at Dolby Digital Plus 5.1. Speech is clear and pretty detailed across both devices but, while the Chromecast has enough dynamism for a blockbuster soundtrack, we did encounter the occasional lip-sync issues.
Overall, both streamers offer great performance for the money. Want to view 4K content on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video? You'll need to splash out on their premium cousins: the Chromecast Ultra (£69/$69) and the Fire TV Stick 4K (£49.99/$42.99).
We awarded both these budget streamers the full five stars in our tests, so you really can't go wrong.
The addition of Alexa and the responsive user interface make the Fire TV Stick a great way to get streaming services on your TV – especially if you're already an Amazon Prime subscriber. However, for the sake of a tenner, it makes far more sense to splash out on the Fire TV Stick 4K.
If your budget's tight, the Chromecast is a no-brainer. Google's voice controls might not be quite as well-integrated but the Chromecast is an incredibly clever product that's also incredibly easy to use.
If you already own an Android device or a Google smart speaker, and aren't phased by the lack of a physical remote, this HD streamer offers the best value for money.
Read the full review: Amazon Fire TV Stick
Read the full review: Google Chromecast